Years at Ellis:
Kindergarten to Grade 12
B.A. Visual Arts, Oberlin College; M.A. Media Studies, The New School
New York, NY
Assistant Director for Digital Media and Marketing
How did you get into your line of work?
I’ve been at The New York Community Trust for about 13 years. My first role here was as a Communications Associate and now I’m the Assistant Director of Digital Media and Marketing. My role has shifted, but my experience prior to this place was diverse and therefore ideal because I had graphic design, public relations, and journalistic writing experience. While I’ve been at the Trust, I’ve managed a half a million-dollar ad budget and produced successful ad campaigns, some with video components. I’ve started and grown our social media presence, redesigned our website twice, and managed our e-marketing.
Another part of my job is producing written publications about the grants we make so we can inspire and educate the donors in our network. Charitable people often tend to give to places that they know and trust, but that can get stale and unimaginative. Part of my job is to introduce them to and connect them with organizations not on their radar doing work in the sectors they care about. That’s something that I feel strongly about in my job. Just yesterday I learned that a woman gave a $20,000 gift to help elderly people recently released from prison based on a newsletter story we wrote on the topic.
How has your career path changed over time? Did you always know you wanted to do what you’re doing now?
After college, I moved to Philadelphia where I learned graphic design skills on the job with Public Interest GRFX, a part of the Public Interest Research Group network. After working there for 3 years, I got a little restless and decided to go to grad school at The New School. While I was there, I got involved with a progressive, free newspaper called the Indypendent and I started to do graphic design and layout for them. Eventually, I started doing some writing for them which helped tighten up my writing because they had very serious editors. Prior to that, I had only done academic writing and this was a great experience to work on journalistic storytelling. Even though it was volunteer work, it was really good for my career trajectory because after grad school I started doing more freelance PR and writing. I was mostly doing PR for small companies and nonprofits and after working with a particularly bad comedy improv group, I realized I needed to do something else and started applying for more 9–5 jobs and that’s how I found The Trust, which is where I am now. I had always known that I wanted to work in nonprofits or at least make a difference in the world in a good way. In terms of the fact that I’m in communications, I’ve always been a visual person so design and marketing was really a natural outcropping of that.
Is there a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career?
We’re always innovating and helping bring this 100-year-old institution into the future. The fact that I’ve been able to develop our digital strategy and guide all of our e-communications has been great. I produced a video last year that’s a one-minute-long animation that crystalizes why someone would leave a charitable legacy and why someone would do that with The Trust. We’ve been using it as part of our ad campaign and it has been really successful. Ultimately, I feel like I have juggled a lot in life. Work, parenting, painting, running…I’m proud that I’m able to do the things I want to do in life and fit it all in there.
What lessons has your work life taught you?
Don’t assume people are on the same page as you. Listening, gratitude, and humility are very important, especially when you’re talking to strangers. Interviewing donors and grantees is a part of my job. As a funder, there’s a certain power dynamic and when I call grantees I need to be aware of that power dynamic. I want to make sure that I’m making them it comfortable for them to be honest and speak frankly and make it an atmosphere that diffuses that power dynamic. On the flip side, when I call donors I need to make sure that I’m extremely polite and reverent and make sure that the experience is positive for them. Doing your research, even if it’s just a half-hour before the call, is important so they feel like you value their time and come prepared.
What is your best memory of Ellis?
When I was in high school, I had Mrs. Newham as both a studio art and art history teacher. I was allowed to use the studio after school and I would be able to paint on my own. As a senior, having the quiet of the art room and the trust of the School that I could just be there working unattended felt very adult.
What do you think are the advantages to Ellis’ environment?
I remember the word “excellence” being used a lot when I was there and I think that’s an important word. Sometimes, I’ll say to my husband, “Bennett, we need to strive for excellence!” I think that having that drive to be “more than” and not just do the bare minimum is important.
If you could interview anyone living or dead, who would it be and why?
Sojourner Truth. The fact that she went back 13 times into the slave states to rescue enslaved people shows a level of mind-boggling bravery. She was an incredible woman of action.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Quick. Funny. Colorful.
We often talk about girls developing their voice at Ellis, what does that mean to you? How do you use your voice?
I’m definitely someone who will speak up and ask a lot of questions. I’m a very vocal person when it comes to sharing my thoughts on the matter, whatever it is. I’m an artist as well and that’s very much about voice.